A Brief Flirtation with Google Drive by Erin Wade

As is true for most of us, I have my systems for doing things, and I get comfortable in those systems. Still, it is good to periodically check out other options to make sure one is not missing out on something better.

I've recently been exploring the possibility of changing my email service, and I was considering the option of using Google's email service - not basic gmail, but rather the email thru their G Suite service, which allows you to use email addresses based in your domain (e.g. that end with your own address rather than "").

G Suite, as the name implies, doesn't just offer email, but an entire office suite of features, many of which present the option of potentially replacing systems I already use. They have a secure video conferencing service (Hangouts Meet), they have their suite of office software, and they have an online file storage service, Google Drive.

Some of these things are of interest to me, while others are not. For example, I'm open to exploring Hangouts Meet as an alternative to our current service, but prior experience leaves me with exactly zero interest in Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides. The feature set in Apple's iWork suite is perfect for me, and it's integration into iOS devices, particularly the iPad, makes it a solid winner for me every time. I also am well aware, both from personal experience and from the reports of others, that Google has historically been slow to update the iOS versions of their products to use the features available on the iPad.

Among the products in G Suite is Google Drive. Aside from looking up documents from my kid's school, I had very little experience with this service. I'm a long-term user of Dropbox, but as I said at the beginning, it's good not to let comfort keep one from exploring other, potentially better options. Since, like most of the free world, I have a personal Google account, I also technically have a personal Google Drive. I decided to play with it a bit and see what I thought.

I downloaded the app to my iPad and made a couple of documents to put into the drive for testing purposes. Some of what I found was what one might expect. It handled PDF documents just fine - you can render a preview of the document, export it to another location, etc, just as you might expect.

The iWork files were another story entirely.

I specifically made up a Pages document for the test. What I found initially was that there is no preview option for a Pages file - rather, Google Drive just tells you that it is an "unsupported file type".

Unsupported File Type

This isn't entirely surprising in and of itself. iWork files, as I understand them, are actually packages, and in the past that has confused some file systems. But it is inconvenient if you want to take a quick look at the document before opening it to make sure it is what you want. Dropbox and iCloud (naturally) readily render previews of these files.

While this is inconvenient, it is not necessarily a deal-breaker. I'd prefer to be able to preview my iWork files, since I use them regularly, but there isn't that much confusion between one file name and another for me.

But then something else happened: The Pages document that I had entered into Google Drive started duplicating itself. The first time I tried the app it multiplied the file into some 40 or 50 copies, and I said to myself "well, that's that, then" and deleted the app from my iPad. After a few days, and a little bit of thought, I considered the possibility that the experience might have been a fluke, so I tried it again, this time bringing files into the app in multiple ways. When I sent a copy to the app directly from Pages using "Send a Copy", it did not appear to make duplicates (though it did, inexplicably, append "-1" to the file name, despite there being no other file with that name in the folder). However, when importing from Dropbox what I found was that, it after it was sitting in Google Drive for a few minutes, it began to make multiple copies of that file without being asked to do so.

Files duplicating like bunnies

I'm not sure why this would occur, but if I were to consider Google Drive as an option for me, it would be in place of Dropbox, which would mean that I'd be sending a lot of files from Dropbox to Drive. I love The Tick), but I certainly don't need a replay of the attack of Multiple Santa to occur in my file storage.

Of course, there is also iCloud Drive on the iPad. What I found there was that any attempt to import a Pages document into Google Drive from iCloud Drive caused the file to simply hang there, with its progress bar seeming to be finished, and yet never fully resolving. This was only true for the iWork file. I was able, for example, to import a PDF from iCloud into Google Drive just fine.

One could argue that I was functionally warned up front that Google Drive wasn't going to play well with my files with the indication that the Pages document was an unsupported file type. I suppose that is true, to some degree. It's worth noting, however, that the iWork suite - Pages, Numbers, and Keynote - has been around now for over a decade, and it comes free with the iPad - this isn't a new product, nor is it obscure, so it seems reasonable to ask why a product that presents as a general storage tool would not be prepared to support these file formats properly. One suspects, if one is conspiratorially minded (as one might be) that it is because Google would prefer one to use their office suite.

A quick check of the weather finds that Hell has not, in fact, frozen over yet, so that won't be happening on my iPad.

So, as the title says, this was a brief flirtation with the product. I might have been able to live without the ability to preview my iWork files - though in retrospect, I do use that feature quiet frequently. Not being able to reliably import my files, and finding them duplicating like bunnies, however, largely seals (or, rather, breaks) the deal.

Siri is not a Morning Person by Erin Wade

I am an early riser. This wasn't always the case - into my early 30's I was a night owl, and would work or play computer games well into the wee hours. Changes in work schedules over the last decade and a half or so have required early rising by necessity, and repeated practice has resulted in a change to my overall circadian rhythm - I'm typically up by or before 6 AM whether I need to be or not.

On workdays, when I'm in the process of getting ready for work, I've gotten into the habit of asking Siri to check the time. Most often she simply pleasantly chirps out the hours and minutes in her delightful British accent (yes - my Siri has a British accent. Doesn't yours?). But I'm clearly dragging her out into the world far earlier than she'd prefer, and sometimes she lets me know this:

You Woke Me Up, Dude

Sometimes it's this simple protestation that she was still resting when I invoked her - perhaps a not-so-subtle attempt to apply a bit of a guilt trip on me. Still other times she is more explicit about her opinion on what should be occurring at the time, and I feel like she's implying that it should be true for me as well as she:

time to still be in bed

I'd be a little irritated with her if I didn't find myself actually agreeing. Of course, if she's going to have such clear opinions on how early we should be getting up, perhaps she'd like to facilitate a change by doing my work for me. When I suggested this, however, she was unequivocal:

no I can't

I'm a little hurt. Couldn't she give the common courtesy of at least suggesting she could try?

Drag and Drop on iPad: by Readdle by Erin Wade

At the World-Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC) on June 5th, 2017, Apple made a number of announcements, among them significant changes coming for the iPad in iOS 11.

One of the changes garnering the lion's share of attention is the upcoming addition of drag-and-drop capability to the iPad. This isn't entirely new - there has long been the ability to drag around items within a given app, but not between them.

This represents a significant advance for the iPad in general, and is particularly exciting for those of us who work at or near an iPad-only status. Unfortunately, it's mostly a tease at the moment. iOS 11 won't come out until the fall, and while it is possible to sign up for early beta's of the software, working with an operating system still in development on one's work devices simply is not the wisest of choices.

However, if you are looking to get some experience with how drag-and-drop works now without taking the risk of using a potentially unstable operating system on your production machines, Readdle has you covered.

Their announcement likely got a little lost in the excitement of WWDC, but back at the end of May, Readdle announced the capability to drag and drop files between their apps - specifically between Documents, Scanner Pro, PDF Expert, and Spark. I use all of these apps except Documents (PDF Expert largely replicates the capabilities of Documents while adding the PDF functionalities), and I'm pleased to say it works extremely well.

Say you've received some documents via email that you want to review and mark up. Open your email in Spark, and open PDF Expert in a split window, and simply drag the files from the email across to the folder you want in PDF Expert. It's that simple and straightforward. You can see it in their video, below:

The utility of this is quickly obvious, and Readdle has just about the perfect family of apps to use it with. Their is a brief explanation in their blog post of how they are doing it - servers opening and such - which would make it seem like something potentially clunky and slow, but it's seamless in application. The only limitation here I've seen thus far is that, because it relies on off-site servers, it doesn't work if you don't have an internet connection. Under those circumstances the file you are dragging simply stops at the window split. If you have, or go get, these apps you can test that yourself by putting your iPad into airplane mode.

Readdle has a fairly long history of developing applications that recognize and address some of the limitations in iOS, and this is a nice example of that. I actually feel a little bad for them that the announcement of this capability came such a short time ahead of the WWDC announcement, which takes Readdle's drag and drop capability and applies it system-wide. WWDC also announced a Files app, which appears to largely do everything that Documents does. Still, Readdle puts on a brave face on their blog entry about WWDC, indicating:

It’s great to see Apple focused on unleashing true iPad potential, while adding some tremendous improvements to the dev tools and kits. People will enjoy the new experience on the App Store, get more apps, and do more stuff done with their iOS devices.

We will dig deeper during the week and come up with awesome ideas on what we are going to do with iOS 11 and Readdle apps.

Based on their history thus far, I suspect they are up to it.

Dropbox - Moving Forward by Erin Wade

Back in January I discussed a bit about apps that had not yet been updated for the multitasking features in iOS 10. In particular, I was frustrated with Dropbox - I rely on the service heavily, and the lack of support for a feature that would make it much more useful for the device seemed problematic.

The long drought is over - Dropbox has now been updated to work with iOS multitasking.

dropbox multitasking at last

This feature has been in place for the past several weeks, and it is well implemented. My primary desire for the feature was for looking at reference materials. Dropbox for iOS offers a pretty good file viewer, making it unnecessary to open documents in a separate application if all one is going to do is read them. The lack of multitasking support meant one had to either go back and forth between the apps when looking at other documents, open them in another app that already did support multitasking (thank you, PDF Expert), or view them in Dropbox on another device. I've used it many, many times since the update was released.

There is also an additional benefit that I did not expect. With Dropbox open in the secondary pane (on the right) one can open files into the app one is using without the iPad going through the app dance - out of the app, in to Dropbox, only to watch the file open in the app. What happens now is that, when one exports the file out, it simply begins to open in the app - no switching back and forth. The same is true for saving files back to Dropbox - initiate the action in the app on the primary pane (to the left) and the save dialogue finishes up in Dropbox on the right. I don't know if any of this is technically faster than the older method (a very rough test with a stopwatch suggests not), but it absolutely feels faster.

This is headway, and finally brings to the iPad Pro app an option that was sorely lacking once multitasking came into play.

There are other capabilities that would help to round out the iOS application that are not yet present:

  • Syncing/saving folders on the device - The app has had a feature to do this with individual files for some time, but folders have been left out. This feature is apparently on the way, but won't be available until next year.
  • Edit-in-place - This is the feature on iOS that allows you to open and edit a file directly from the storage location, and have it automatically save back. There are several apps that have been developed so that the app handles this instead of the operating system, but Dropbox has not yet done the work of making it available everywhere. This means that often one has to copy a file to another app, work on it, and copy it back. This leaves stray copies of the app in each location, and adds the work of going back and deleting the strays (doesn't that sound ominous) later on.

Dropbox says that on-device folder syncing is on the way, but the copy in their announcement of the feature suggests a possible misunderstanding of its real relevance. That post uses getting caught in a train tunnel or on a bus without wifi as the reason for the feature. While these periodic inconveniences will be made less problematic with the feature, the reality is that there are entire folders I simply want immediate access to all the time. With the desktop/laptop app the option of "selective sync", allowing one to have some folders synced to the computer while others are not, has been available for quite some time. It seems clear the decision to keep virtually everything off the device for the iOS app was a nod to the smaller amount of storage spaces on the devices. However, at this point you can get your iOS device with up to 128 or 256 gigs of space. This means it is quite possible to have a iOS device with more storage than many modern laptops. If Dropbox is still thinking of iOS devices as secondary devices that might need this feature occasionally they are off base - an iPad (or iPhone, for that matter) kitted out for work can easily replace a laptop for most general work at this point.

Orphan Apps by Erin Wade

Like anyone else with a smartphone, I have a lot of apps on my devices - 145 on my iPhone 6s+, 165 on my iPad Pro. Some of these are apps I use every day, some routinely, and others only on rare occasion. And - lets be honest - a few of them are leftovers from a bygone era. Did I really download and play Heads Up!, the app from the Ellen Degeneris show? I guess I did, because here it stares at me. And I'm sure I'll play Plants Vs. Zombies again, so I'll just go ahead and keep it there in my games folder...

Some of the apps on my phone, as it turns out, have become orphans - applications that are still there, that I may use with some regularity, but which are no longer being actively developed by their creators.

When one goes searching for a given type of application there are often dozens of options to choose from in each category, and prices range from free to much farther up the spectrum, with options across that price range within every category. The array of choices can make selecting an app challenging - when you have dozens of versions of the same basic thing, which do you choose? Do you go with price, with features, with...?

I've begun to select apps based, at least in part, on a pair of different features: Longevity and active development. All other things being equal, I will prefer an app that has been around for a while and which has been actively and readily updated. In iOS, this information is available in the App Store on a given item if you scroll down a bit:

PC Calc is a long-term app

PC Calc, an advanced calculator app for the iPhone and iPad has been around for a long time - it's on its third major upgrade version (e.g. Version 3.5.3), and it's been updated as recently as March of this year. This is a clear example of an app being actively maintained by a developer who has demonstrated longevity in the iOS app market. In relative terms it's not an inexpensive app - $9.99 for a calculator app will seem to many a high price when there are multiple free options in the same category. But for my money a part of what these variables indicate is that the app will be much less likely to become an orphan in future updates of the operating system.

Unfortunately this perspective comes from experience. I have one app, for example - AccuFuel, a Mileage Tracker by a company called Appigo, which also makes a fairly popular to-do productivity app called "Todo" - that I've been entering mileage into since 2007, all told, and since 2011 for my current vehicle. All told, I have nearly four years worth of mileage data entered into this app (I am, shall we say, mildly fond of data).

Unfortunately, the company stopped updating the app back in 2010 and, while it continued to work for some time, it didn't make the transition to iOS 8. Since that update the entry interface is buggy (although it works), and it is impossible to export data out of the app. The company was aware of the problem, and claimed they were working on an update to the app.. Still - that was over a year ago, and nothing has happened with it. The company could have, at the very least, honestly admitted to users that they didn't intend to update or, ideally, provided an update that at least allowed the export to work so a user could get his or her mileage data out of the the app. Instead, it's clear the app is an orphan. I've given up up on it, and set up a spreadsheet for mileage in Numbers instead. While I like to support independent developers, it seemed best to move this task to an app developed by a more stable company.

And I'll be unlikely to use anything produced by Appigo in the future.

In other cases there is a middle ground, where I can see the orphan status in the cards. I have a speedometer app called aSmart HUD by Atoll Ordenadores. The app hasn't been updated for a year and a half, and while it works under iOS 9, some features are buggy (trip time sometimes starts in the negative numbers, which makes me seem faster than I am, I suppose, but cuts down on accuracy). The developer no longer lists the original app on the website (though it does have updated versions of it), and has provided no communication regarding intention on providing further updates or supporting this version of the app going forward. It looks like this apps parents are, metaphorically speaking, preparing to drop this app off at the orphanage.

Overall, the lesson in all of this is that I've found that it pays dividends to make some evaluation of the level of support and stability of the company producing the applications you use, particularly if I they are things that you intend to use over the longer term.

Apple's New Notes by Erin Wade

With iOS 9 Apple has given some serious love to its Notes app, including many features that you often have to purchase an app to get - drawing, some rich text editing features like bold, italics, etc, and capabilities like making different types of lists (in particular I like the checklist option - great for making shopping lists).

With iOS 9.3 they have added the capability to lock individual notes so the content is kept from prying eyes.

Under lock and thumb

This is great. Because Notes is a system app, it's likely to fall to hand for marking down all sorts of information on the phone, some of which the owner might not want others to see. But its implementation of this feature is, well, a bit odd and clunky.

First, the feature has to be turned on in settings, and then an individual note has to have the locking feature enabled by tapping the share sheet. To finalize enabling it, the user has to either enter the password or use Touch ID. All of this is fine, I suppose, though a bit obscure, particularly with the enabling feature in the share sheet menu (which otherwise mostly houses ways to, you know, share things).

How to Lock a Note

What's odd here is that this process enables the lock, but doesn't lock the document. You have to then tap the little lock symbol in the upper right hand corner to formally lock the document. What's more, you also have to do that every time you exit the document in the future.

Make sure you tap the lock!

And now we're secure

What I mean is this: Say you go through the process of locking a document, and then go back to read it again, edit it, etc. When you get done with that, and navigate out of the document, it remains unlocked unless you manually choose to lock it. What's more, unlocking that note to edit it also unlocks every other locked note you have in Notes.

To their credit, there is a "lock now" button at the bottom of the document menu screen which, when tapped, locks all open notes. And when I manually lock the note I was working on, it also locks all of the other notes that I inadvertently opened as well. But why this manual process to lock? If I really am protecting sensitive information in a note, wouldn't it be better for it to lock automatically when I exit, always requiring a password or Touch ID to open it again? Then I would know it, and all of my locked notes, are always locked - there would be no need to, say, check to see if my notes were locked before I handed my phone to someone else to look at.

One suspects that this is an attempt to compromise. Other notetaking and writing apps can have a password applied, but this is typically to access the the entire app. Here you can access the Notes application itself without entering a password, but your notes themselves can be protected. One can see the value in that - I can show another person what's on a note without giving them free access to everything I've written. The same cannot be said for an app like Day One, an otherwise excellent journaling program. There, when you enter your password or Touch ID and hand your device to another person you have just granted them free access to anything you've ever written in that app. The Notes solution is better, I suppose, if you want to be able to show others selective information on your device. But honestly, those notes I want secured should automatically secure themselves when I exit them - period.

iPad Pro Keyboard by Erin Wade

iPad Pro set in portrait orientation on the left, iPad Air 2 (in a BookBook Case) in landscape orientation on the left.

iPad Pro set in portrait orientation on the left, iPad Air 2 (in a BookBook Case) in landscape orientation on the left.

I have had an iPad Pro now for a couple of weeks. I have had some difficulty incorporating it into my workflow. I knew that having it was going to be useful, and I have some ideas about how, but it will take some time to fully integrate it.

One of the more frustrating things is how long it is taking some of the app developers to update their apps for the device. In particular this means apps don’t take full advantage of the features of the device, and I am particularly struggling with the failure to integrate the iPad Pro’s new virtual keyboard (which is, in and of itself, pretty awesome - it’s essentially a full keyboard).

In part, this presents an issue because it will take me a bit of time to learn the new keyboard. After five years of typing on glass with the 9.7“ iPad I have a lot of habits based upon that device’s keyboard. For example, I use a lot of dashes in my writing, and I have a habit of hitting the little ”.?123“ button in the lower left-hand corner in order to access that item. But two things are different on the new keyboard. First, there is now a dash on the main keyboard, right where you would expect it on a typical physical keyboard. Second, the Pro reverses the location of the ”.?123“ button and the emoticon button; this means that I keep accidentally accessing the emoticon keyboard when I intend to access the ”.?123" keyboard.

One of non-updated apps in question is Day One, the journaling app I use to do the overwhelming majority of my writing. This means that, when I set the app up in landscape format, I get a comically-large version of the keyboard from the 9.7" iPad, which is spaced all wrong, making typing a challenge.

To better incorporate the new iPad Pro I considered actually pairing it with a Bluetooth keyboard, something I haven’t actually done since the first-generation iPad[1]. And then I remembered something: the size of the iPad Pro is frequently described in articles as being, in landscape, about the size of two 9.7“ iPad screens side by side. This also would mean, that in portrait the iPad Pro is about as wide as a 9.7” iPad in landscape.

Which means that the portrait version of the old keyboard on the iPad Pro is almost exactly the same size as the landscape version on the iPad Air. So I turned Day One to portrait orientation and started typing. This entire entry has been typed on the iPad Pro in portrait orientation. It’s worked quite nicely.

This won’t last, of course. Eventually Day One and the other apps I use will update to put the new keyboard in, and I will be writing on them in Landscape, and learning the new keyboard. But it’s nice to have found a work-around in the meantime.

  1. When the iPad first came out this was exactly how I pictured using it - with a keyboard paired, writing in that format all over the place. But, as often happens when a new system presents itself - in this case, the virtual keyboard - I became curious about using the new thing instead. It turns out that it’s quite possible to type very quickly and effectively on a virtual keyboard.  ↩

iPads at Work by Erin Wade

It's like clockwork, like some anti-celebration: Every year about this time folks come out with a series of articles about how one cannot do actual work on an iPad (or, as a variation: the iPad cannot replace a laptop). This is perplexing to me, given that I've been regularly doing my work on an iPad - which replaced my use of laptops - since the device was first released back in 2010. I wrote about it back then, and it continues to be the case.

This spate of articles came my way via Daring Fireball this past week. John Gruber linked to this article by Joanna Stern in which she makes an attempt to use several different tablets in place of her laptop. And one wants to give her a bit of credit, in that she actually tried each of them out. Allowing for that, her article still presents with some fundamental flaws. The first is the Turkey Bacon Problem (TBP) - the mistake one makes of trying to use something to replace something that it is not. A tablet is not a laptop. Yet in this article she is clearly trying to use each of the tablets in exactly the same fashion. In many ways this is like a carpenter purchasing a pneumatic nailer to replace his hammer, but using the device by trying to drive traditional nails and complaining that it doesn't work as well.

Additionally, she clearly doesn't have a full understanding of the capabilities of her iPad. In her section on multitasking she notes:

...using the iPad, which displays one app at a time and requires you to press the home button twice to switch apps...(Emphasis added)

Actually no - the iPad doesn't require you to press the home button twice to switch between apps. You can also turn on multitasking gestures in the settings to allow a four finger swipe to move back and forth between recent apps, and a four fingered swipe up to get to the app menu. Admittedly, this is somewhat of a power-user approach, but so is the use of alt-tab - the command combination for which she is pining - to switch between apps.

Which brings up my final point with respect to her approach. Ms. Stern indicates that, to write this article she borrowed the tablets in question (though the article suggests she does own an iPad Air). This would suggest that her evaluation of each item came from a relatively short time with each device. This shows in her evaluations of the keyboards, in which each and every one comes up wanting:

There was a tie for best keyboard. I was able to type 82 words a minute on the Surface Pro Type cover and the Galaxy Note Pro's keyboard cover, slightly down from my usual 92 words a minute. The Samsung keyboard was the closest in size to my laptop's, though my fingers felt most at home on the Surface's firm, backlit keys... I typed 80 words a minute on the Nokia keyboard case, and 72 on the iPad's Logitech cover. All of these let me type faster than on a screen. (Again, emphasis added)

Along with the Turkey Bacon Problem, there appears to be an expectation that there will be no learning curve when moving to a completely new tool. Not to beat the carpentry metaphors to death, but this is a little like buying a circular saw and manually moving it back and forth across the wood, and then proclaiming that you can cut faster with your trusty old hand saw.

I'm happy for her that she typically types at 92 words a minute (pretty specific number there - 92, not 90... But I digress). I suspect that's on the keyboard of a laptop with which she is extremely familiar. A few hours, or even a day or two of practice on an unfamiliar device is unlikely to gain the same results.

There is also an inherent assumption here that I see made over and over again:

All of these let me type faster than on a screen.

There has been a long-standing assumption that use of a hardware keyboard will always be a faster input option than typing on-screen. This was an oft-repeated trope when the original iPhone was released, and it persists in relation to the iPad. However, it seems to me that this should be taken as an empirical question, rather than something accepted a-priori.

Back when I first got my iPad I compared my typing on glass to my typing on the iPhone and on a mechanical keyboard, and found that it was faster than the iPhone, slower than the keyboard, but improving over the month or so that I had owned the device. It's been nearly four years since I first wrote that review, and I've been using iPads on a daily basis since then. This article made me curious to see where I was at with all of that practice under my belt.

In the interest of brevity those results - including the methods of measurement - can be seen here. By way of summary, let me note that I came out with the following average wpm on each device:

  • iPhone - 57.50 wpm
  • iPad - 74.17 wpm
  • iMac -79.33 wpm
  • iMac corrected for errors - 74.67 wpm

A couple of items stand out to me here, and are relevant in context of Ms. Stern's article. The first is the level of improvement between 2010 and 2014. My performance on the iPad is considerably higher than back in 2010 - 74 wpm compared to about 64 back then. But it should also be noted that my performance on the iPhone is also considerably higher - 57 wpm compared to 33 in 2010.

I say this not to pat myself on the back (though yes, my arm is a little sore from doing so), but to point out the practice effect from using these devices on a daily basis over the past several years. One is going to be more proficient with a tool - any tool - used with regularity than with one that has just been picked up.

The other thing I noted was that my current results on the iPad are comparable to my results on the iMac with its hardware keyboard. In particular, when the iMac results are corrected for errors - relevant here because autocorrect on the iPad significantly decreases my error rate - the results are nearly identical.

In fact, when I ran a second test - using the same website for both iPad and iMac - they were even closer: 74.83 and 76.50 respectively.

I am, of course, only one person - an n of 1 - but as Andy Braren at thinkertry can attest, there are others who have found similar results. We fall short of real science here, but these results clearly suggest it is possible to learn to type as quickly on glass as on plastic, mechanical keys.

To be clear, people should use the tools and devices they want to use, the ways they want to use them. It's when information is presented as fact when it is clearly opinion based upon limited experience that I balk.

I suspect we are approximately one generation away from all of this being a non-issue. Children being born now are likely to wonder why we tied ourselves to these hulking devices - desks, big screens, keyboards - when we could have been comfortably working on things in our laps, laying on couches, etc.

This Place is Permanently Closed by Erin Wade

I've come across an interesting and somewhat troubling bug in google maps. For some reason, there are locations coming up as being "permanently closed", even when this is not the case.

How do I know this? My Lovely Wife and I were vacationing in Manitou Springs, Co, after the ABAI Conference this year. Manitou Springs is a lovely little tourist town that sits on the doorstep of the Garden of the Gods and the Manitou Cliff Dwellings - just down the road from Pike's Peak. We were looking for a place to have dinner on our first night in town, so MLW fired up her Yelp app and discovered a place called PJ's Bistro that served variations on polish food - pierogies, in particular, were what sparked her interest (she's half-Ukranian on her mother's side - you don't want to get in the way of a Ukranian on her way to a pierogie).

That decided, I looked it up on the Maps app on my iPhone. It was there, but the flag over the pin listed it as "permanently closed". Afraid all hopes of potato pocket heaven were lost, MLW called to ask if PJ's was open. She received a mildly confused "yes" from the woman on the other end of the line. (Incidentally, the food was delightful, and the restaurant offers a bit of balcony seating that offers views of the main drive in Manitou Springs, with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop).

Ordinarily I might have written it off as a fluke, but the following day we decided to rent a car to cover the distance to the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center. We had the rental company pick us up. I didn't know the actual street address of our motel, so I just gave the name - The Dillon Motel - to the young man on the phone. Later he told me that they were confused because when they looked the Dillon up on Google Maps it was listed as - wait for it - "permanently closed".

I was aware that the Maps app that comes on the iPhone uses Google Maps as its source material, so it wasn't surprising to find the same indication when I looked it up on my iPad. The situation brings up a couple of troubling questions. The first is whether our entire trip has been some sort of feverish delusional experience brought on by too many days of behavior analysis seminars, or whether we've been sucked into some sort of alternate reality (staying at the the Dillon Motel does make me feel like I'm in a Quentin Tarantino movie - and I can't find either my gun or the drug money, making me very, very nervous as to who might come through the door).

The second, perhaps more salient question is: how many businesses are inaccurately listed as being "permanently closed" on Google Maps? It appears that this is one of Google's crowd sourcing features, so just about anyone can list a business as "Permanently Closed" - including competitors and prior customers with an axe to grind. Given that Google maps - either directly or through the plethora of other applications that rely upon it - is a primary source of information for a growing number of people looking for a hotel, a restaurant, an all-night bikini waxing spa, this could likely be a large source of lost business and revenue for such places. This would be particularly true for those businesses run by less tech-savvy folks, who are likely to be completely unaware of such a listing - after all, the legions of people not stopping into a store can't inform the owners of the problem.

Furthermore, even when a business owner is aware of an innacurate listing, who does she contact? There are no "report a problem" links that I could see on the iOS Maps app, nor on the mobile version of the Google Maps site. There is one on the desktop version, but I could not get it to allow me to enter information from my iPad. It might - probably would - from a desktop computer. But even if that's so, once the issue is reported it's up to Google to decide whether or not to correct the issue. And even then, this would be one correction at a time.

And that's somewhat beside the point. The reality is that these sites and applications are designed to be used by people who are out and about. The mobile versions - apps and mobile websites - are what people are going to be seeing and using more and more. Business people already contend with competition and the other stresses of the open market. They can be reviewed by anyone and his uncle for any reason. The business owner should not also have to worry about whether he or she is unknowingly losing business because Google has identified a business as "permanently closed".

Update: We had let the owner of the Dillon Motel know about his status on Google Maps, and he was able to have it corrected. He also indicated that he would get in touch with the owner of PJ's Bistro and make them aware. So - a happy ending for them, but how pervasive this is remains an open question.